It's a big week for the Bathurst Harness Racing Club, with feature races highlighting both the Wednesday and Friday night meetings ensuring the Western Region starts what is set to be a bumper 2021 on the right note.
Wednesday night saw the running of a Club Menangle Country Series Heat which was comfortably won by the Steve Turnbull trained Windy Hill Wally ($1.35) after yet another superlative drive from star reinswoman Amanda Turnbull.
Turnbull pinged aboard Windy Hill Wally as soon as the arms folded back and the gelding was never troubled from there; going on to win in cruise control ahead of Jack Rocks ($5.90 tote place) - who is proving to be a long odds specialist and continually underrated no matter the jump in class.
There were some promising results for the smaller stables based in Parkes, Cowra, Young, Forbes and Canowindra; and with another healthy contingent of runners engaged for tonight's meeting it's a promising sign for the strength of harness racing in the entire Western Region and surrounds.
Mendoza Lass ($4.10 tote place), trained by Young's Darryl Davis, was steaming down the straight in the first event on Wednesday but just could not haul in All Spruced Up ($9), who hung on to win by a neck.
Alectown trainer and breeder Stan Townsend also managed a minor placing with Good Cop ($2.10 fixed place), with the gelding continuing to show incremental improvement since switching to the Townsend stable after running in regional Victoria.
The highlight of tonight's meeting is undoubtedly the running of the Elgas/Mitre 10 Oberon Cup for runners with a National Rating up to 120; and Bathurst trainer Mat Rue will feel confident after securing two spots in the six horse field; including the current favourite Fouroeight.
Fouroeight ($1.80), who will likely start as the short-priced favourite from 6 on the front and only row, has three wins and three minor placings from his last eight starts in strong company at Goulburn, Bathurst and Menangle - and is very clearly the classiest horse in the race if he can bring his best form.
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Rue spoke to Australian Community Media earlier in the week and is looking forward to seeing how Fouroeight goes up against a strong field; he was also full of praise for his Oberon opponents.
"He went great at Goulburn, all credit to the winner though, I had my chances and couldn't quite get him," Rue said.
"Pretty much every horse in the field has got some kind of chance I feel, Maximus Red's run the other day at Goulburn was good, Kanena Provlima's form at Menangle is quite solid and Aphorism, he's always competitive in any race.
"It's crazy how often the Oberon trainers get a win on the night, I know that the Reynolds boys are always training winners on this night. I know Justin is only driving Kanena, but he'll be doing his absolute best to get a win up, that's for sure," he said.
When talking about Fouroeight's preparation, Rue was confident he has his gelding primed for the Cup tilt.
"I did feel the horse needed the run leading into that, he had an easy time after the Shirley Turnbull. That being over 2,800 I thought he needed a rest after that and we backed off a bit. I did feel he was a bit short of a run heading into Goulburn, but the run was super.
Five Parkes runners are engaged in the meeting, with Caribbean Pat ($17) and Soldtoyousir ($17) both unfortunately drawing poor spots for Malcolm Hutchings; while Brett Hutchings will be feeling reasonably confident in one of Bettorpickabeach ($26), Jessejames Shannon ($9) and One More Star ($10) coming away with a minor placing at the very least in some very open races.
Jessejames Shannon is a particularly intriguing runner after scoring the gun draw in a very open maiden, and the Western Terror x Geomattical gelding is showing steady improvement with each trial - he's certainly one to watch in his second career start.
Forbes trainer Phillip Thurston will be hoping La Peregrina can show swift gate speed from the pegs as the filly looks to break her maiden in start seven while Cowra trainer Deehan Crook has roughie Grey Stonebridge ($67) in the same race, and the mare will need the run after a long spell.
The next harness meeting at the Parkes Harness Racing Club will be the bumper Australia Day night meeting that feature two memorial races.